Zambia reached the African Cup of Nations final for the first time since 1994, defeating Ghana 1-0 Wednesday night as Emmanuel Mayuka scored in the 78th minute.
Ghana, which beat the United States en route to the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals, could have gone ahead in the eighth minute, but Asamoah Gyan’s penalty kick was saved by goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene.
In the World Cup quarterfinals against Uruguay two years ago, Gyan’s penalty kick in overtime went off the crossbar, and the Black Stars were eliminated in a shootout.
Mayuka entered for the Copper Bullets at the start of the second half. No. 26 Ghana finished a man short after Derek Boateng was ejected in the 84th.
Zambia, tied for 71st in the FIFA rankings, advanced to Sunday’s final in Libreville, Gabon, against the winner of the Ivory Coast-Mali match later Wednesday.
”This is the greatest moment ever a player can have to play in the final,” Zambia captain Christopher Katongo said. ”We go to the final without any pressure. We have to take this cup. This is an opportunity. It doesn’t come every day.”
The Gabonese capital was the site of Zambia’s worst sporting disaster in 1993, when the plane carrying Zambia’s national team to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal crashed just minutes after taking off, killing 25 players and officials.
”There’s something written that we have to go to play to honor the memories of the Zambia national team that died in 1993,” said Frenchman Herve Renard, the Copper Bullets’ coach.
”It was catastrophic for the nation. The 12 million people of Zambia are waiting for us to go back to Libreville. Immediately (after) we arrive, we will go to the place. We just have to think of them and play for them and play for Zambia because it’s a fantastic country.”